If York City Mayor Kim Bracey had it her way, the city's Human Relations Commission would be a countywide agency.
The right to equality does not stop at the city line, and neither does discrimination, Bracey said.
"I don't think it knows boundaries any more than crime does," she said. "If we're going to have a better community -- period -- this needs to be a countywide, a community-wide, initiative."
It's not the first time a community leader has advocated an expansion of the city's human relations commission, which is authorized by ordinance to hear complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, as well as to monitor and report hate crimes and other civil tensions in the city.
YorkCounts recommended a countywide commission in 2006, but county officials declined to act on the idea. The York County Community Against Racism reinforced the argument years later, citing an increase in diversity countywide and a related need to fight
Bracey said she's hoping to renew the conversation with York County commissioners in the near future.
County won't pay: It'll be a tough sell.
"I don't have any problem with a countywide human relations commission, but we're not paying for it," President Commissioner Steve Chronister said.
The idea "probably has its merits," Chronister said, but residents can use the services of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which has an office in Harrisburg.
Chronister said he'd be open to a volunteer operation or some other model as long as "the cost of it is not going to come out of county taxpayers' pockets."
'Countywide issue': One person in favor of the countywide HRC model is Stephanie Seaton, executive director of the city's commission who remains on paid administrative leave after commissioners decided in November to audit three years of Seaton's case work.
Discrimination is "a countywide issue. It's a statewide issue. It's a national issue," Seaton said.
"Certainly people come in and request our services throughout York County," she said. "They're just looking for someone to help."
Seaton stopped far short, however, of lending her support to Bracey, whom she blames for the current state of the HRC.
Advocating a countywide HRC is "something I've heard all the mayors say," Seaton said.
"But she is the only mayor who has taken such adverse action against the agency she claims to support," she said.
Seaton said it was the mayor's decision to move the HRC to the county's administrative center a few years ago.
"She kicked us out of the city buildings," Seaton said.
As for the accusation that she wants to dismantle the HRC, Bracey said that's "so far from the truth" and unreflected in her record.
"I just want it to work," the mayor said. "I want it to be functional for everyone."
More support: Expanding to a countywide HRC is an idea that also has the support of York City Council President Carol Hill-Evans, who said she's in favor of a countywide HRC as long as protection for gay men and women remains part of the law. State law does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, as the city's ordinance does.
"I know of the fight and the struggle that went into creating that and including that," Hill-Evans said.
Likewise, Hill-Evans said she does not want to see the city disband its HRC -- an option that would force all York County residents to seek help from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
The state's HRC is "already backlogged," Hill-Evans said.
Seaton also rejected that idea. She said local commissions are more effective at resolving disputes, often without the need for a full-fledged investigation -- something that can't be done at the state level, she said.
"We can bring parties to the table and resolve over 75 percent of our issues right there," Seaton said.
Shannon Powers, the state HRC's spokeswoman, said the time it takes to complete an investigation and issue a decision depends on the complaint.
"Sometimes it is very complex and takes longer. There is no real timeline," she said. "Some complaints are resolved within a very short time frame. Other complaints take much longer."
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.